Out of the current crop of Hollywood actors Paul Dano always looked the most likely to step behind the camera one day.
That’s because, like most of the characters he has portrayed, Dano is seemingly sensitive, contemplative and intellectual, all of which are prominent in his directorial debut “Wildlife,” which revolves around the breakdown of Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal’s marriage in 1960, which is shown to us through the eyes of their son Joe, played by Ed Oxenbould.
Dano recently admitted to me that even though he didn’t pick up the book with the intention to adapt it, he instantly found himself attracted to Richard Ford’s 1990 novel of the same name from the very first sentence.
“The first paragraph remains my favorite of any book. I was just in from the start as a reader.”
“Then there was a paragraph 20 pages in about this kid watching his mom in swim class and everyone around her thought, ‘There’s a good looking woman. There’s a woman that looks happy.’ But he knew something was off at home.”
“That kind of duality hits my gut. Those initial gut reactions make their way into the film. It is a family portrait. When we see an idyllic image, whether it is a painting, a Rockwell painting, we don’t know these peoples’ lives.”
“I always love to peel back the layers. I also loved the sense of family and the American Dream. Even though there is a lot of pain and struggle and heartbreak, there’s still a lot of love and compassion.”
This opportunity to explore family dynamics and expose the American Dream was what ultimately convinced Dano to adapt and direct “Wildlife.”
“The one big thing for me was the mystery of who are parents are. Suddenly one day you realize that they had past lives, that they’re flawed, and that they’re struggling with something.”
“That transition from being a sheltered child into the murky world of adulthood, this kid being thrust into that because of his parents really spoke to me.”
“Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) is someone who has always put his life out on the horizon. Someone who thinks the next job is going to make things great.”
“The American Dream can take you out of the present. Jerry is suddenly presented with a reality check and he can’t handle it. For me, it was a coming of age story for a family. It’s not just the kid, the parents have to grow up as well.”
But actually adapting “Wildlife” took Dano several years, as he wanted to make sure that there was something of himself in the film rather than it just being a straight adaptation.
Which is exactly what Ford wanted, too, because when Dano sought his blessing, the novelist responded, “‘My book is my book. Your picture is your picture. You have to do you now.’”
““That was the best thing I could hear. I wanted to take what this book has given me and put in through myself.”
You can see the results when “Wildlife” is released in select cinemas on October 19.